Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


May 2006

George Bush and his successor in the Oval Office are faced with the stark reality that America is not rich enough or wise enough to sustain the hegemonic superpower role that it took on after the Cold War ended.

Following the Soviet Union's collapse and the U.S.-led defeat of Saddam Hussein's army in the Gulf War, most Americans decided it was time to relax and enjoy the luxury of being the world's sole remaining superpower. In 1992 voters decided to put the Cold War behind them and replace President George H.W. Bush with Bill Clinton, a man of the post-World War II generation.

In his first term, domestic affairs, not foreign policy, was Clinton's top priority. However, he was persuaded by our NATO allies to send U.S. forces to Bosnia in 1996 to stop a brutal civil war, something he had not done in Rwanda earlier. In Clinton's second term, foreign policy got a higher priority under the stewardship of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and General Wesley Clark, the U.S. NATO commander. As a result, Iraq, Kosovo, and Al Qaeda became priorities, even though the president declined to use U.S. troops to oust Saddam Hussein or move against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

George W. Bush, like Clinton, entered office thinking he could put foreign policy on the back burner while concentrating on domestic priorities, notably huge tax cuts. The traumatic events of 9-11 forced a reversal of that policy.

U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in far more casualties and financial drain than President Bush and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld had led the public to expect. Many Americans are now disillusioned and in a mood to abandon Iraq.

What does this portend about future U.S. policy? Here are six international challenges that will weigh heavily on George Bush in his remaining years in office, and on presidents who will be elected in 2008 and 2012.

As America's influence abroad declines, which new power or group of nations will step forward and challenge the world order established by the United States and its allies during the Cold War, and that Washington defended largely by itself during the past decade? The truth is that no other country or grouping will take on this responsibility in the near future.

As a result, we are entering a dangerous period when ambitious new contenders, notably Iran, and potentially also China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Brazil will attempt to fill regional power vacuums that will open if America curtails its world policeman role. This will not be the tranquil world that Americans expected at the end of the Cold War. In the coming decade, presidents will be faced with a much more complicated, and more dangerous, world.

File last modified on Sunday, 10-APR-2006 8:33 PM EST

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